by Craig Owen, WCIA Head of Wales for Peace (RH)
In 1922, the first Peace Message from the Children of Wales to the World,
contained a straightforward wish: a wish that there be
“NO NEED FOR ANY OF US, AS WE GROW OLDER
TO SHOW OUR PRIDE FOR THE COUNTRY WE WERE BORN
BY GOING OUT TO HATE AND TO KILL ONE ANOTHER.”
Today, conflict remains at the front of many of our minds
Not least those of our own children
As we mark the centenary of saying ‘NEVER AGAIN’ to war
We see a century of conflicts
The children of Wales have yet to see their wish fulfilled.
But the pursuit of Peace has been a vital part of Wales’ story,
Our nations story, our story
Over the last 100 years.
Over the last 4 years, the Wales for Peace project
Run by the Welsh Centre for International Affairs at the Temple of Peace
Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund
Has been working with many national and local partners,
Including the Archives Committee here in Llangollen
To explore this big question:
“How, in the 100 years since World War One, has Wales contributed to the search for peace?“
It is a huge honour to be invited to address you today
And not just a little bit daunting, compared to the stellar figures who have taken this stage before
Compared to whom I am a mere mortal
But my story in some ways is Wales’ story, and Llangollen’s story, and perhaps your story?
A shared story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things
To build a better world.
In 1914-15, as WW1 was at its height
Wales offered sanctuary to over 4,500 Belgian Refugees
Fleeing the fighting on the front
In the 1930s, Wales would go on to offer sanctuary to Basque children
Fleeing the Spanish civil war
In 1922, the first Young People’s Peace Message
From the children of Wales to the children of the world
In 1923, a Welsh Women’s Peace Petition
Was signed by 390,296 women Wales-wide
In an incredible door to door campaign
Calling for America to join the League of Nations
And become a leader in world peace.
In 1926, the North Wales Women’s Peace Pilgrimage
Set off from Penygroes in Caernarfonshire
With 2,000 women flying the blue flag of peace
They marched to Caernarfon Castle
And then to Conwy, along the North Wales Coast
And all the way to Hyde Park
In 1926, the League of Nations held their International Peace Congress
The equivalent of the UN General Assembly today
In 1929, the Welsh Education Advisory Committee – the Teachers of Wales –
produced not only the first ‘Peace Education’ curriculum in the world
But also a manifesto for the 1929 General Election
Their ideas would go on to become enshrined
As the blueprint from which UNESCO was founded
In 1935, Peace Ballot
In 1938, Wales’ Temple of Peace was opened in Cathays Park, Cardiff.
The first building in the UK dedicated to the cause of Peace.
In the memory of all those who had lost theirs in WW1.
The world ended.
In 1946, the children’s peace message received a heartrending reply – from the children of Germany.
“It is years since we heard from the Welsh children
HOW IT GREW DARK.
We should love to hear from you again.”
What of Llangollen?
In June 1947, out of the horrors of WW2 nothing captured the spirit of ‘NEVER AGAIN’
Than the idea of a music festival, in a beautiful setting, with peace and reconciliation as its mission
52 choirs from across the UK, and 10 from other countries,
Packed out the local schools’ recreation ground, on which we now stand.
In 1949, the Children’s Peace Message to the world was broadcast from Llangollen
Llinos Roberts presented the first message, from this very stage
Up to 1983 it replicated the Urdd’s own Peace and Goodwill Message
And from then till now, the two have been separate but complementary
For many years, it followed a formal format
And in more recent years it has become far more youth-led and youth-inspired
Exactly as it should be!
In 1949, Llangollen also welcomed the Luebeck Choir, demonstrating peace and reconciliation in action
The first competitors from Germany
WW2 was still very raw; many in Llangollen and in Luebeck had lost relatives fighting each other
But on the Tuesday of Eisteddfod week, the town staged a special welcome concert
That was to be one of the first post-WW2 cultural exchanges
In 1953, the Obernkirchen Childrens Choir was described by Dylan Thomas, on his visit to Llangollen, as ‘the pigtailed angels’.
Their song, ‘the Happy Wanderer’, rocketed to the top of the charts
And the BBC / Parlophone recording sold millions
What a change in public outlook in less than a decade
From enemy foes to musical love
As cultures healed through music and exchange
The choir returned to Llangollen again in 1960
Through the 1940s and 50s, Welsh peace makers helped to found major organs of the United Nations
The UN Secretariat
UNDP the Development Programme
UN peacekeeping missions and the security council
The International Labour Organisation ILO
The World Meteorological Organisation… Well, we in Wales normally have a lot of experience of rain.
In 1981, women from Newport, Cardiff and Swansea started a march to an air force base in Berkshire to protest against nuclear weapons.
They didn’t go home for 19 years, as the Greenham Common women’s peace camp grew to become one of the longest peace demonstrations in recent history.
In 1985 Dolen Cymru, the world’s first nation to nation twinning, linked Wales and Lesotho in Southern Africa, now in its 33rd year
In 1995, a Serbian Choir made it to Llangollen, having had to practice in cellars
And fleeing through the frontline of the Balkans war to bring the voice of reconciliation to Llangollen
A cry for peace on Europe’s own doorstep.
In 2004 the Llangollen International Eisteddfod was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize
The International Eisteddfod is very much part of Wales’ Peace Heritage story
And Wales is very much part of the Eisteddfod’s international and heritage story.
What can You do?
Please visit the Archives Tent
Find out for yourself some of the fantastic stories
Of inspiring internationalists, ordinary people who did the extraordinary
Here in Llangollen
As well as using the archives though
Could you volunteer your time or support?
Do we have any budding philanthropists in the room?
Could you give to help the Archives project to get under way,
and to access Heritage Lottery Funding to capture these stories for future generations?
In particular, towards marking the 75th Anniversary of Llangollen in 4 years time.
Also – please sign the Peace Train Petition
For World Peace Day this September, this petition will make its way by train
from towns across Wales, to London
Calling for the UK Government to sign up to the Anti Nuclear Proliferation Treaty
Retracing the steps of some of those great peacemakers from the 20s and 30s
You don’t have to be Mandela to change the world
We can all take actions for peace in our own ways
We are all peacemakers
We can all remember loss of war
We can all oppose conflict
We can all offer sanctuary to refugees
We can all champion equality
We can all build global solidarity
We can all inspire future generations
We can all work together.
We can all create peace in our time
In our classrooms, playgrounds, communities, cultures, countries,
in our world, and in our hearts and minds,
For WCIA and Llangollen,
Our shared desire is to inspire
A new generation of internationalists
Not to yearn with nostalgia, for a past now gone
But to learn with inspiration, and a questioning mind, for a present now here
And to burn with passion, for a world of peace and justice
And a future that is yours to shape.
Write it, create it, play it, sing it, take it, shape it, make it
Your are all the Peacemakers of Now
These are your communities
This is your international Eisteddfod
This is your Wales
This is your world.
This is your piece of peace.
You are the peacemakers of today and tomorrow
You can shape peace in our time.
Diolch yn fawr iawn – Thankyou.